Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cairo, aka my hotel room/getting to Alexandria

[image description: the view from my dorm room in Alexandria. There are several old-looking high-rise buildings and palm trees, as well as a small sports court where we often see kids playing during the day.]

[image description: a sticker on a wooden desk that says "Qiblah Sign", with words written in Arabic that I am too lazy to type out/translate right now, and an arrow pointing forward. It is on the desk in the hotel I stayed in, and tells you which way Mecca is for prayers.]

I landed in Cairo at roughly 2:30 am local time. At this point, I had not slept in nearly two days, so my recollections of things may be a bit foggy. When you first arrive in Cairo, you go to the bank when you first get in to buy a visa (it's $15, and I'm not totally sure they even really looked at my passport), and then through passport control. Again, I'm not convinced that they actually looked at my passport. They just stamped it and sent me on through.

I found the guy from my hotel, who took me to the shuttle. I was too tired to pay much attention, but I remember sitting in the shuttle with the driver going all over the place blaring a cassette of Fairuz and thinking "Oh yeah. I'm in Egypt!" I finally got to the hotel around 3:30 am, and after some difficulties with my reservation ended up in the right room with my friend Kassi.

Before we'd arrived in Egypt, Kassi and I had discussed our arrivals and decided that we would get up early that day and go to Giza or perhaps go into Cairo and visit some museums, which made it a big surprise when we both woke up at 5 pm. Curse you, jetlag, my archnemesis. We thought about going into Cairo for dinner but were both really tired, so we ended up eating falafel and hummus at the hotel, after which we went back to bed and prepared to head up to Alexandria the next day.

We got up and took a cab to the train station at Alexandria, and after we got our tickets we had a bit of time on our hands so we went to the train station's cafe. I ordered a Coke and Kassi ordered a bottle of water, but somehow we also ended up with some pastries. We then went to catch our train, and settled down. We took an express train, so the ride was roughly two and a half hours. We almost didn't get off at the right stop, we had to ask one of the other passengers to make sure, and then someone on the platform to doublecheck. Alex: being paranoid since 1990.

We then took a taxi to the dorms (an aside on the topic of driving in Egypt: it is terrifying, and the lines that divide the lanes are just suggestions), but when we got out we couldn't find them, so we were these two sweaty American tourists with tons of luggage wandering around Alexandria. We eventually got directions and made it to our dorms. The women in charge of the dorms don't speak very much English, and mine and Kassi's Arabic is pretty limited as well, so there was some confusion but we eventually got checked in. I feel that I should note that everyone was very amused that my name was Alexandria. We were able to get ahold of our program director eventually, we went down the street to a mobile phone shop where you can use their phone and then pay them for the amount of time you've used. There are payphones here, but you have to have some kind of phone card to use them (they don't take cash) and a lot of them don't work.

The dorms here are pretty great. I share a room, and there are shared showers and bathroom. We get 3 meals a day here in the cafeteria, and the food is actually really good. It's not like cafeteria food in the US at all, because a) it is actually tasty, b) it's Egyptian food, and c) it is cooked with love by people who know what they are doing. This morning, I went with a few people to Carre Four, which is essentially the Egyptian equivalent of Walmart, because I needed a towel and some toilet paper. It was really not that different from a grocery store in the States.

I will post again later in the week with more about Alexandria!


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